25 Aug – 07 Sep 2016: Alofi Mooring Field ~ 19 03S 169 55W
We stayed in Palmerston Atoll over a week hoping the strong winds would lessen so we could enjoy more of what this isolated atoll has to offer. But the weather always has the final say in this life we lead so with no sign of easing in the enhanced trade winds we farewelled these remote shores and set sail in company with Laros and Swiftsure, Niue bound.
It was a fast, lively and rolly sail, squalls at times and 3 metre seas but 60 hours later it was over. We rounded the top of another tiny spec in the mighty Pacific Ocean, finally sailed into flat water and attached ourselves to a mooring ball during the dead of the night off the capital of Niue, Alofi.
From the moment we started conversing by radio with the officials we fell under Niue's charm, everyone was just so pleasant and helpful. We had the first day onboard, it was Sunday, and NOTHING happens on Sunday except for church services so it was a welcome day of leisure after our passage.
Monday morning saw all us new arrivals making our way ashore to complete arrival formalities. We had been forewarned about the “Niue Crane”. There is generally quite a swell coming into the dock making it unsuitable to leave the dinghy in the water and there is no beach to land small boats, so they have installed a crane to lift the local fishing boats out and we get to use it for our dinghies. Captain Cook named Niue the Savage Islands because of its inhospitable coastline and lack of shore access, guess they didn’t have the crane back then!
This is how it works – Skipper drives dinghy to the docks big concrete steps where Admiral jumps out and climbs up without being washed away and the dinghy being dumped onto the steps. Admiral then puts on Crane Driver hat and pushes crane out over the water and dinghy, then operates controls to drop line and shackle down to dinghy until Skipper can clip it on to a brace we have put across dinghy. Skipper then does big jump out onto steps and Admiral starts lifting dinghy with controls before it bashes into the dock.
Sounds straight forward but this is where it can all go horribly wrong on the first excursion ashore. If you haven't quite got the lifting point in the right place, when you start lifting the dinghy it can try to tip itself over, much to the amusement of the officials who were waiting to clear us in, I expect they have seen it all before.
Once you have it in the right place you lift it until it clears the concrete dock, pull it inboard till its over the dock, place the dinghy trailer under it, lower it onto trailer, undo shackle and pull dinghy over to designated dinghy parking area, slide dinghy off trailer and return trailer for next boat!!! Phew, you guessed it, we didn’t make any unnecessary outings ashore!!!
A Teeny Weeny Slice of New Zealand
With our feet (and dinghy) on solid ground and our passports stamped at the dock we were free to explore the worlds smallest independent nation where they have the highest ratio of politicians in the world with one MP for every 65 residents.
For us it was like wandering around a very small beach community in NZ, we were home but we weren’t! Everyone has kiwi accents, NZ money is used, the handful of shops all stock familiar NZ products (yes, skipper has more Marmite!), the worlds smallest Yacht Club warmly welcomes us cruisers and a funky cliff top cafe with surrounding bush & glorious sea views serves excellent lattes & muffins ~ what more could we want? The temperature was even cooler, we definitely felt as if we had finally left the tropics. If only it had an all round protected flat anchorage, then it would have been a perfect paradise found and we may still be there.
Out Exploring Caves & Chasms
Niue is one of the largest raised coral atolls in the worlds, it juts up abruptly from some of the deepest waters on our planet, it is totally unique. Towering limestone cliffs line its shores but shallow reefy pool areas form as the tides change, sea life comes and goes with the rising and falling of the water levels. Hidden along this shoreline maze are some incredible caves, caverns and ravines and some excellent walkways have been introduced to provide access to these gems .
Where Have All the Niueans Gone?
This little “Rock of Polynesian” has supported human inhabitants for over a 1000 years, the population (in recorded times) peaked in the 1960’s at 5,200, nowadays its around 1,500. In 2004 they took a direct hit from Cyclone Heta, 30 metre waves pounded the shores, vegetation was stripped from the island, homes ruined, lives lost. Rebuilding has been a long, hard & slow process but these islanders are tough.
On our tour of the island by hire car we estimate about 80% of the properties lie abandoned in the outlying villages, but instead of having a neglected feel to them these small communities suggested they were just waiting for better times to return, times when maybe some of the 20,000+ Niueans return from NZ and a few thousand more come home from Australian. That won’t happen of course, but what a difference a return of even 5% would make to boost the economy. For now tourism and fish exports are the main earners.
Niue is somewhere we could have stayed much longer had it had a protected anchorage, but its just a short flight from Auckland, maybe we will return again by plane one day.
Another 260 miles west lies the Northern Tongan island group of Vava’u. With our headsails poled out we floated off downwind with 12 – 20 knots of wind from behind. The sea had some very lumpy patches as we passed over the Tongan Trench where the seafloor contours resemble the mighty Himalayas with a 8,000 metre variation.
About 40 hours later we sighted the lush islands of Northern Tonga, a day disappeared from our lives forever as we crossed the International Dateline.
We Have Reached Tonga ~ The Last Country on Our Circumnavigation